Prosecutor v. Loteria (G.R. No. 220661. August 18, 2017)


On July 17, 2014, the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 6, in Legazpi City rendered judgment in Criminal Case No. 12116 entitled People of the Philippines vAlex Medalla Loteria - a prosecution for illegal possession of dangerous drugs — acquitting the accused thereat of the crime charged for failure of the Prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.[1] The petitioner moved for the reconsideration of the acquittal, but the RTC issued its order of August 29, 2014 denying the motion for its lack of merit.

The petitioner then commenced a special civil action for certiorari in the Court of Appeals (CA).

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) subsequently informed the CA that it was joining the petition for certiorari, and adopted the petition as its own.

Nonetheless, the CA promulgated the assailed resolution of December ,2014 dismissing the petition for certiorari because the petitioner had not indicated when he had filed the motion for reconsideration in the RTC to assail the acquittal; and because he was an improper party considering that the proper party to bring the action was the OSG.

On August 10, 2015, the CA denied the respective motions for reconsideration of the petitioner and the OSG. The petitioner anchors his petition for certiorari on the claim that the trial court had thereby gravely abused its discretion.

ISSUE: Whether or not the petitioner Provincial Prosecutor of Albay could assail the acquittal of the accused in a criminal prosecution for violation of Republic Act 9165 through the special civil action for certiorari considering that the acquittal was on the ground of the Prosecution's failure to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt?

HELD: The Supreme Court DENIED the petition for review on certiorari.

First of all, the CA correctly dismissed the petition for certiorari because of the failure of the petitioner to indicate the exact date of the filing of the motion for reconsideration vis-a-vis the decision of the RTC acquitting Loteria. Such indication was a mandatory predicate to the filing of the petition for certiorariHence, the failure to state the exact date of filing of the motion for reconsideration in the RTC was fatal.

Secondly, the petitioner, although he was the Provincial Prosecutor of Albay and, as such, the officer duly authorized to conduct the active prosecution of the accused in the trial court, was not the proper party to bring the petition for certiorari in the CA. The direct responsibility of doing so pertained to the OSG. Under Executive Order No. 292 {Administrative Code of 1987), the Solicitor General is the principal law officer and legal defender of the Government. (Section 35, Chapter 12, Title III, Book IV of Administrative Code of 1987)

It also bears stressing that only the OSG may bring or defend actions on behalf of the Republic of the Philippines, or represent the People or State in criminal proceedings before the Court of Appeals. The OSG's non-filing of a petition within the reglementary period before this Court rendered the assailed decision final and executory with respect to the criminal aspect of the case.

And, lastly, the more substantial reason why the present recourse should be DENIED is that the petition for certiorari brought to nullify the acquittal of Loteria would place him in double jeopardy. As such, his protection under the Constitution against double jeopardy would be denied.

The elements of double jeopardy are: (1) the complaint or information was sufficient in form and substance to sustain a conviction; (2) the court had jurisdiction; (3) the accused had been arraigned and had pleaded; and (4) the accused was convicted or acquitted or the case was dismissed without his express consent.The elements of double jeopardy were all unquestionably present. The information was valid; the RTC had jurisdiction; Loteria was arraigned and tried; and judgment was ultimately rendered acquitting him after trial on the merits.

The constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy provides to the accused three related protections, specifically: protection against a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal; protection against a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction; and protection against multiple punishments for the same offense.

Worthy to stress is that the constitutional prohibition against placing a person under double jeopardy for the same offense bars not only a new and independent prosecution but also an appeal in the same action after jeopardy had attached. Given that every acquittal becomes final immediately upon promulgation and cannot be recalled for correction or amendment, allowing the petition for certiorari would effectively reopen the prosecution and subject Loteria to a second jeopardy despite his acquittal in blatant disregard of the Constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy.
The Court has pointed out in People v. Laguio, Jr. that the only instance when double jeopardy does not attach is when the RTC acted with grave abuse of discretion, thus:
The only instance when double jeopardy will not attach is when the trial court acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, such as where the prosecution was denied the opportunity to present its case or where the trial was a sham. However, while certiorari may be availed of to correct an erroneous acquittal, the petitioner in such an extraordinary proceeding must clearly demonstrate that the trial court blatantly abused its authority to a point so grave as to deprive it of its very power to dispense justice.
But that is not the case herein.

[1] Section 5, Rule 110 of the Rules of Court expressly states: Section 5. Who must prosecute criminal actions. - All criminal actions either commenced by complaint or by information shall be prosecuted under the direction and control of a public prosecutor. In case of heavy work schedule of the public prosecutor or in the event of lackof public prosecutors, the private prosecutor may be authorized in writing by the Chief of the Prosecution Office or the Regional State Prosecutor to prosecute the case subject to the approval of the court. Once so authorized to prosecute the criminal action, the private prosecutor shall continue to prosecute the case up to the end of the trial even in the absence of a public prosecutor, unless the authority is revoked or otherwise withdrawn.
[2] City Fiscal ofTacloban v. Espina, G.R. No. 83996, October 21, 1988, 166 SCRA 614,617.
[3] North Carolina vPearce, 395 US 711, 717(1969).
[4] 420 US 332,343 (1975).
[5] Republic v. Court of Appeals, No. L-41115, September 11, 1982, 116 SCRA 505, 536; People v. Pomeroy, el al, 97 Phil 927 (1955); People v. Yelo, 83 Phil. 618(1 949); El Pueblo de Filipinas v. Bringas, 70 Phil 528 (1940).
[6] G.R. No. 128587, March 16, 2007, 518 SCRA 393, 408.